Featuring Nick Stahl, Olivia Wilde, and highly underrated character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince, prison drama On the Inside is currently available from Anchor Bay Entertainment in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. Set in a maximum security institution for violently insane criminals, On the Inside hits a few high notes and features a requisite creepy and compelling performance from Vince, but is too loosely and underwhelmingly plotted to carry its own weight.
After murdering a man in cold blood whom he believed to be guilty of raping his girlfriend, Allen Meneric (Stahl) is sentenced to an extended period of psychological evaluation at Northwood Sanitarium. Specializing in the treatment and confinement of pathological criminals, the facility is divided into minimum and maximum security wings, plus a separate enclave reserved for females. Adjusting slowly to the institution’s rigid daily routine, Allen is forced to grapple with both the physical and psychological reality of the crime he has committed, while simultaneously dodging the mind games and physical attacks from his fellow inmates. After being transferred to the hospital’s minimum security wing and meeting a sweet, bipolar girl named Mia (Wilde) at a co-ed function, Allen’s future begins to look brighter – until he becomes the unwitting target of two escaped inmates from the maximum security wing who are hell bent on staging a bloody exodus.
On the Inside does technically have a linear story, and there are even a few good cafeteria scuffles thrown in to heighten the drama. The main problem with the film is that the first 75% of the film serves no real purpose except to set up character relationships that will be important during the thirty-minute climax. The internal conflicts that define Stahl’s character are constantly reiterated through flashbacks and cryptic verbal allusions, but they aren’t actually evoked in a meaningful way by the events happening around him until all the chips are down and a final, epic confrontation is clearly imminent. Vince, as mentioned above, is bizarre and unsettling as a seemingly affable, but in fact deeply disturbed inmate, and Dash Mihok, who plays the film’s foremost sociopath, is charmingly hammy. Stahl and Wilde, however, both seem flat and disinterested, and the characters they inhabit are no more vibrant or compelling than their performances.
The only available feature on Anchor Bay’s disc is audio commentary with the movie’s writer/director and a few lesser members of the cast. Aside from Vince’s reliably solid performance, On the Inside is an unfortunately strained and plodding genre exercise with a few good ideas, but not enough real cohesion to make them work.